New American Songbook

"In 20 years of listening to hip hop, its music and stories have never left me unchallenged or unchanged. Throughout its history—from Kool Herc to KRS and beyond—hip hop has told the story of America through the styles of noir, memoir, jazz and rhythm and blues, comic books and blockbuster action movies. It is everything we say we are, and those things we maintain we are not. This is the new American Songbook." - KMUW commentator, Zack Gingrich-Gaylord  

New American Songbook can be heard on alternate Mondays, or through iTunes.

For most of its existence, hip hop was a sample-based musical form. Any good origin story of hip hop reinforces this—from two turntables and a microphone an entire cosmos was born. 

Hip hop is an oversized music; part of what makes it so great is the exaggeration, the outlandish claims by emcees of supernatural powers, ridiculous braggadocio and the pulp-like caricature of its villains. So it’s rare to find an artist who is skilled at making hip hop smaller, who can turn the arena filled with thousands of people into a room with just the emcee and you. On the 2016 ‘The Falling Season’, Masta Ace does just that through a beautifully crafted concept album that traces the path of a young man switching high schools in the early ‘80s.

Eminem’s now infamous freestyle castigating Donald Trump at the BET Hip Hop Awards raises one very important question: What the heck was that?

The recent shooting in Las Vegas was followed by the usual crop of Facebook and Twitter posts decrying either gun violence or gun control, splitting semantic hairs over weapon terminologies and invocations of thoughts and prayers.

Travis Shinn

The 1988 Democratic National Convention in Atlanta incorporated ‘designated protest zones’--later more commonly known as ‘free speech zones’--as a way to control and limit the impact that protests might have on the convention. A parcel of land near, but not too close or visible to the event center, was cordoned off, making protests and demonstrations a curious sideshow.

Just over twenty years ago, in 1996, 300 mostly African men, women and children occupied churches in Paris to protest deportations. These people, who became known as Sans-Papiers, meaning ‘without papers’, would eventually form autonomous international collectives throughout Europe, demanding full recognition of human rights from the various governments they lived under.

Many people familiar with public radio will also be familiar with NPR’s series of Tiny Desk Concerts.

The rapper Prodigy, best known for his work as half of the classic duo Mobb Deep, died in June of this year. Mobb Deep was a breakthrough project, perfecting the art of noir rap during the nineties, one of the most productive and diverse periods of hip hop history. Their grim reporting from the borough of Queens inspired years of lesser imitators who reproduced the violent imagery of Mobb Deep’s lyrics without the context, history or community that made those lyrics really impactful.

The album “Break Stuff,” released in 2015 by pianist Vijay Iyer, is a complex and challenging performance. At the heart of the music is the concept of the break, an idea with deep roots in hip hop music and culture. 

When 24-year old Chance the Rapper accepted the 2017 BET Humanitarian Award, his brief speech touched on a lot of big ideas: school reform, police brutality and black empowerment.

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